On 2 April 2014, the Commission announced the imposition of fines totalling €301,639, 000 on 11 producers of high voltage power cables that it alleged had operated a cartel. The companies concerned included most of the world´s largest high voltage power cable producers, namely ABB, Nexans, Prysmian (previously Pirelli), J-Power Systems (previously Sumitomo Electric and Hitachi Metals), VISCAS (previously Furukawa Electric and Fujikura), EXSYM (previously SWCC Showa and Mitsubishi Cable), Brugg, NKT, Silec (previously Safran), LS Cable and Taihan. ABB received full immunity from fines under the Commission’s 2006 Leniency Notice as it was the first to reveal the cartel to the Commission.
The cartel operated for a decade from 1999-2009 and according to the Commission, the participants openly weighed up the risk of being caught running a cartel against the potential profits that would result, as well as making extensive efforts to delete incriminating documents.
In general terms the companies allocated bids between them, agreeing price levels in advance to ensure that a designated supplier would offer the lowest price. The Japanese and Korean members of the cartel agreed not to bid against their European counterparts whenever they received requests from European customers. The members of the cartel regularly met in hotels in Europe and South-East Asia, sending e-mails and faxes to reach agreements. The participants divided up the world into regions and agreed to stay out of one another’s home territories.
Of particular note is the €37.3m fine announced on Goldman Sachs for its role as a former owner of Prysmian. According to the Commission, it is sufficient for an investment company to have a “decisive influence” over the commercial policy of the investee company to attract liability.
Commission Vice President in charge of competition policy Joaquín Almunia said: “These companies knew very well that what they were doing was illegal. This is why they acted cautiously and with great secrecy. Despite this and through joint efforts by several competition authorities around the world, we have detected their anti-competitive agreements and brought them to an end.”